My sister and I once saw our dad chatting on the phone to his friend. Their conversation seemed to consist of a mental bodily scan of their combined ailments from the top down. ‘How’s the auld liver?’ ‘Ah sure it’s not too bad.’ Pause. ‘And how about the leg? Is it still giving you trouble?’ ‘Only in winter. And spring. Summer too.’ Another pause. ‘And me feet are giving me gyp.’
A few weeks later we took dad to A&E in Margate because his blood thinning tablets had caused Quentin Tarantino-esque nosebleed. We sat in the hospital while poor dad literally filled a bucket with blood. He walked up and down slopping blood everywhere. ‘It’s ok,’ said a brisk nurse, whisking by and nearly slipping in it. ‘You can lose about three quarters of your blood before we get a bit worried.’
I sat on the cold plastic seat, exhausted, yet jaggedly awake and thought of all the times I had dialled 999. Each time, there was an element of farce. The first time standing in the kitchen holding my new-born son in my arms, listening to Neneh Cherry’s ‘Seven’ when I felt sudden wetness, looked down and saw dark blood pooling on the white tiles. This was in 1994 before I had a mobile, and my husband was out. The phone was in the living room which was (curses) carpeted in pale grey. The blood was really gushing now so I laid the baby on the bathroom mat, grabbed a towel and shoved it down my pants. At that moment husband returned home, gasped and phoned the doctor. ‘She’s pouring blood,’ I heard him say followed by a silence. Then, ‘No – next Thursday is not going to work.’ He slammed the phone down and dialled 999. It was mid-afternoon and they arrived within ten minutes.
I was hunched on the lavatory apologising for ‘bothering them’. ‘Having a bit of a bad day?’ said one. ‘Bloody hell,’ said the woman. ‘Literally.’ ‘Are you pregnant?’ I realised I still had a towel stuffed down my pants.
The second time was during the summer of 2016 which you can read about here.
The third time was two weeks last Friday. I had been working on the laptop and on finishing, felt wiped out. Lara was in her room skyping her best friend. My boyfriend had gone to a concert and was uncontactable having lost his mobile. Lara’s dad was abroad on work. I lay down on the bed and tried to ignore the rising tide of nausea. Half an hour later I staggered to the lavatory and threw up. And up and up. The pain in my abdomen grew worse as though someone had punched me. I drew a bath, hoping the hot water would soothe it. It didn’t. I threw up foam (you see this is why I find restaurant foams so horrible) Lara appeared offering water, hugs, sympathy. I was too sick to pretend. ‘I have to phone the hospital,’ She froze.
Later she told me that her skype friend was terrified. Lara suddenly disappeared and the next thing her friend could hear was ambulance sirens.
Through a haze of pain the 999 operator told me to gather my bag and any medicines and leave the door open. Lara rushed around getting my bag, leaving a note for my boyfriend, making sure her phone was charged. Ten minutes later, I heard a wail of sirens and Lara was leading in two cheerful parameds, one man and one woman. (Seriously do they all go to Chuckle Camp or is it a way of coping with a daily torrent of pain and misery?) ‘Having a bad day?’ was the first thing I heard.
In the ambulance, I sat with a cardboard bowl and continued retching, doubled over in pain. ‘So what is it you do for a living?’ said the woman cheerfully. I knew she was trying to distract me but the pain was so bad, it was front, centre, and wraparound. There was nothing else. I was desperate for pain relief. They gave me an anti-emetic but nothing for the pain. Lara phoned her dad who spoke to the paramedic woman about looking after Lara as well as me. ‘She’s in our care’ said the woman. And she was. As I was wheeled into A&E, Lara was placed between both paramedics and neither let her out of their sight for a minute.
I sat on the floor and rocked back and forth. I was dimly aware of a man standing next to me who bent down and touched me gently on the shoulder looking concerned. Doctors walked by and glanced at me with indifference. Lara’s phone beeped and rang and beeped. I was cold and shivery. A hundred years went by and then I was wheeled into a room. Lara said her auntie was arriving. ‘I’ll go and find her round the front.’ I refused to let her go. ‘No. Stay Here. You do not go wandering round. I want to see her in here.’ Black spots danced in front of my eyes.
Lovely auntie showed up and said she would take Lara home. So that was good. The paramedics wished me luck and left. I rolled around back and forth. A nurse came in and fixed an IV. ‘Buscopan’ she said cheerfully. I grabbed her hand. ‘Please please get me some painkillers. Anything. Breaking a chair over my head would do.’
The second she left my room, another doctor asked her to get something else. A million years went by and I dragged myself out to the reception desk. Nobody even glanced at me. Patients and nursing staff were milling about. ‘Get me some painkillers’ I shrieked. ‘Please.’
My dear friend Stephanie once firmly said that being quiet and well-mannered does not get you better treatment and she was right. A minute later, the nice nurse appeared with a syringe full of something. She seemed almost furtive. ‘Morphine’ she said. I could have kissed her. I think I did.
Ten minutes later the pain was gone. I lay back and breathed. In and out. Without pain. Heaven. I glanced at my notes. ‘Perforated bowel?’ it said. I fell asleep.
They sent me for an X-ray and found nothing. Which on the one hand was good but on the other left me with a terrible fear of it returning. My boyfriend arrived home, found the note and drove to the hospital. ‘You look so pale.’
I was brought up Catholic, where torture and death is integral to their belief system. Christ dying a terrible death for ‘our sin.’ People suffering horrible deaths for their faith. Offering up our pain for Christ’s pain. And young women in the Lives of the Saints books I would guzzle as a child, women who clearly had mental health issues but were held up as shining examples of femininity, precisely because they rejected their femaleness, their curves and hips – so closely aligned to lust, instead starving and torturing themselves, reducing the body to skin and bone. No wonder anorexia is rooted in religion.
There is nothing noble about pain.
“Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.”
― C. JoyBell C.